Steam On The Alley
A northbound train pauses at the Indiana Avenue
station in this view looking east along an unpaved 40th Street. Note the
surface track of the Chicago Junction Railway. (click
image to enlarge)
Chicago’s first two elevated railroad companies opened for business in the early
1890's, electric traction was still considered a somewhat less than reliable
technology for rapid transit applications. As a result, the Chicago & South Side
Rapid Transit Railroad Company, popularly known as the Alley “L”, purchased 46
Forney-type (0-4-4T wheel arrangement) steam locomotives from the Baldwin
Locomotive Works. This locomotive type was named for its designer, Matthias N.
Forney, and saw wide use in a variety of environments ranging from logging to
commuter service. In selecting the Forney design, the company was able to take
advantage of the experience of the Manhattan Elevated, which had been using that
type for many years. Some of the Manhattan’s staff even relocated to Chicago to
work for the new company.
first,” #2 is seen pulling a southbound train at an unknown location. Elevated
Forney’s were considered “double-ended” locomotives because they were intended
to operate as much in forward as reverse (the South Side’s terminals were
stub-ended affairs). (click image to enlarge)
Although similar to the Manhattan’s
locomotives, those delivered to the South Side company were built to heavier
standards necessitated by a more demanding set of performance requirements.
Changes included use of a heavy single-piece wrought iron frame (cracked frames
were a common problem on the New York engines), larger fireboxes, and the
ability to burn various grades of coal or coke. They were expected to maintain
an average speed of 15 miles per hour, including stops, while hauling a fully
loaded five-car train. This was about 3½ miles per hour faster than in New York
and was made difficult by the spacing of stations as close as a quarter-mile in
To help achieve this demanding
performance standard, all but the last engine were built to the Vauclain
four-cylinder compound design. Locomotives #1-45 were delivered during 1892. The
last locomotive (#46) was built to an experimental two-cylinder cross-compound
design and did not arrive on the property until 1893.
Regular service began on June
6,1892, from a single-track downtown terminal located at Congress Street on the
southern fringe of downtown. The terminal was built above Holden Court – a
glorified alley just east of State Street - and was barely adequate to meet the
The initial south terminal was at
39th Street where a coaling tower and water plug had been placed along with a
small temporary repair facility (maintenance work was later shifted to the 61st
yard where more space was available).
The little locomotives were kept
quite busy. Service was provided on an around-the-clock basis with intervals
ranging from as close as every 2½ minutes during rush hours to every 20 minutes
during the “owl” period (Midnight to 5:00am).
Service was extended incrementally
southward as the structure and stations were completed. On May 12, 1893, service
was extended into Jackson Park, site of that year’s Worlds’ Columbian
Exposition. After the fair’s closure, service was cut back to the edge of the
park at 63rd Street and Stony Island Avenue.
Side #46 was the last steam engine built for the company and was delivered with
an experimental cross-compound cylinder design during 1893.
(click image to enlarge)
Locomotive #41 and crew pose for the company photographer on the structure above
63rd Street just east of Cottage Grove Avenue (about 1894). The Washington Park
race track can be discerned in the background. The residential real estate boom
had yet to fully consume reach this corner of the south side even though service
was frequent and cost only a nickel. (click image to
|On October 18, 1897, train service was
extended into the heart of Chicago’s downtown district using the tracks of the
just-built and now-famous Loop Elevated structure. Formally known as the Union
Loop, this two mile-long double track line was owned by the Union Elevated
Railroad Company. The Loop also carried trains belonging to the city’s other “L”
companies: the Lake Street Elevated Railroad (which had converted to electric
traction in 1896 after just three years of steam operation) and the Metropolitan
West Side Elevated (opened as an electric railroad in 1895). In 1900, trains of
the Northwestern Elevated Railroad were added to the mix. Union Elevated never
operated any trains of its own.
Compared to the Lake Street and Metropolitan,
the Alley “L” did not hurry to electrify, thereby becoming the only company to
operate steam locomotives on the Loop. Electrification was on the agenda,
however, and in early 1897 they solicited proposals to do just that. The company
eventually awarded a contract to Frank Julian Sprague to motorize the company’s
existing passenger cars using his revolutionary, but as-yet untested, multiple
unit control system. Known as M.U. and used throughout the world today, his
invention allowed a single person in the head car to control the motors in all
motorized cars in the train (prior to this installation, the motorman controlled
only the motors in the head car and all other cars in the train consisted of
trailers - this severely limited train performance and train length).
A #35 pulling a
southbound train. The locomotive has been relettered for the South Side Elevated
Railroad, which had succeeded the original Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit in
January 1897. (click image to enlarge)
Specifications – Locomotives 1-45
Locomotive Works, 1892
Cylinders, Vauclain, four-cylinder type 9 in. and 15 in. x 16 in.
Wheels/Wheel Base 42 in./5 ft.
Wheels 26 in.
Wheel Base 16 ft. 4 in.
Diameter/Length 46 in./116 - 15/16 in.
63½ x 43¼ in.
Capacity 750 gallons
Area 19 sq. ft.
also result in a dramatic reduction in crewing and maintenance costs compared to
On April 15, 1898, the
first electrically powered run was made over the entire line. Five days later
the first 20 cars were placed in service (about 4 trains), thereby beginning the
gradual phase-out of steam power. The conversion process was completed on July
South Side #42 on display in Tocajo, Cuba. (photo by Jeff Wien)
image to enlarge)
The now displaced
locomotives were consigned to equipment brokers and were scattered among a wide
range of industrial and logging concerns as well as regular railroads in need of
some light duty power for one purpose or another.
Only one of the
company’s locomotives has managed to survive to the present day. Number 42
survives as a static display, albeit in a heavily modified condition at Tocajo (Holguin
This side elevation appeared in a railroad industry publication
in late 1892.
image to enlarge)
Photo of #42 in Cuba by Jeff Wien. All other images from the
Bruce G. Moffat collection.
About the author:
Moffat is a life-long Chicago resident with a deep interest in
Chicago Area traction. Past president of Central Electric Railfans' Association.
He has authored several hard cover books including one the narrow gauge Chicago
Tunnel Company, and on the formative decades of Chicago's rapid transit system,
better known as
The"L" (go to
cera-chicago.org for ordering details or see below). Bruce has also
written numerous magazine articles on traction subjects. He works in the transit
field and formerly served as a rail route manager for the Chicago Transit
click to enlarge
by Bruce G. Moffat.
Explores the development of Chicago's Rapid Transit system from 1888 to1932.
307 pages. hard cover.